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EDITORIAL - We owe a debt of gratitude to Albert Huie

Published:Friday | February 5, 2010 | 2:00 AM

Albert Huie, the master painter, has passed on at the age of 89. The contribution which he made in his lifetime remains, as does the example of a life which was lived to the fullest. Huie's journey from Falmouth, Trelawny, where he was born in 1920, to the peak of eminence in the visual arts at home and abroad is a Jamaican success story which should be made known to a newer generation easily discouraged when hardships prevail, slow to make use of God-given talents, creating self-imposed handicaps, and blaming it all on poverty and social prejudice.

The Huie story is of a young man born in humble circumstances in a rural environment at a time before we laid claim to independent nationhood. He came to Kingston at the age of 16 and began to support himself by peddling his self-taught skills as a decorator of glass and chinaware. One day, he had the temerity to seek audience at the Institute of Jamaica (IOJ), then the august centre of artistic leadership in the island. On the verge of being thrown out, he was rescued by Delves Molesworth, a colonial officer who was secretary and librarian of the IOJ.

Trademark style

He recognised the young man's talent in depicting his fellow Jamaicans as persons of beauty and character despite the prevailing prejudice against dark skin. Huie set them in the overwhelming lustre of the sunlit Jamaican landscape, which was to become his trademark style. Molesworth assisted Huie to attend painting classes at the Institute's Junior Centre and, in time, introduced him to Mrs Edna Manley, the doyenne of the growing national arts movement, who also helped to further Huie's development in the arts and social consciousness. The rest is history. Huie went from strength to strength. He received formal training through scholarships to England and Canada but, despite being exposed to cosmopolitan images, he still maintained his love for his homeland and demonstrated, through his adept use of colour and light in his paintings, respect for the Jamaican people and the landscape.

His fame grew as he mastered the fine art of painting until he was being compared with the great masters of Impressionism, the style which he brought instinctively to his work. He had come a far way from the days in Trelawny when, as a child, he used charcoal from the fire in his grandmother's kitchen to draw pictures on the walls.

Prodigious output

Huie's output was prodigious. The list of major exhibitions of his work, at home and abroad between 1943 and 2000, number some 25. In 1939, along with fellow Jamaican John Dunkley, he exhibited at the New York World Fair and the San Francisco Golden Gate International Exposition, a great honour for 'a country boy come to town'.

Among his many contributions to the development of the fine arts in this country, he is honoured as a founding tutor of the Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts, forerunner of the Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts. Edward Lucie-Smith, the noted art critic and historian, in his book on Huie's work, proclaims him "father of Jamaican painting", a designation with which David Boxer, curator of the National Gallery, where his paintings hang, readily agrees.

Albert Huie received many honours and awards, but his major claim for himself was typically modest: "I was born to be an artist, painting from as far as I could remember." To Albert Huie, we owe a debt of gratitude for his capacity to see the light in us, despite the ever-present threat of darkness.

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